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CV Writing - Format, Content, and the use of Generative AI

CV Writing - Format, Content, and the use of Generative AI

written by Emily Green

​An outstanding CV is a crucial step for legal professionals looking to secure opportunities in a competitive job market. A well-structured CV not only effectively communicates expertise but also navigates the complexities of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). These systems are commonly used by employers to streamline and manage CVs efficiently. You may be familiar with portals such as cvMail, Workday, and Apply4Law; these are all powered by ATS technology.

CV Formatting; Keeping it Simple

The primary goal in designing a CV for candidates in the legal sector is to strike a balance between providing comprehensive information and ensuring it's ATS-friendly. This involves simplifying the format, emphasising relevance, and creating a standout profile that resonates with potential employers. When structuring your CV, consider the ATS by using a clean and simple layout. Utilise standard, easy-to-read fonts like Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman to ensure the document's readability.

In terms of design, steer clear of non-ATS-friendly layouts like sidebars or intricate formatting. Opt for a linear format without columns or elaborate designs that may disrupt the ATS's ability to read the information. Avoid using complex formatting, images, or tables that might impact the ATS's parsing capabilities - prioritise clarity and straightforwardness to enhance the likelihood of passing through the initial screening process without hindrance.

Content; relevance over volume.

Exclude irrelevant details like basic language skills or experiences that are not related to the legal field. Instead, highlight legal internships, specific legal skills, certifications, and notable achievements. An effective way to capture a potential employer's attention is through a high-quality summary or candidate profile at the top of your CV. This concise paragraph should encapsulate your legal expertise, essential skills, and career aspirations.

Can I use generative AI to write my CV?

There is no simple answer to this question. ChatGPT and other platforms utilising generative AI can be an effective tool to rapidly generate content, and this can include a CV. With this in mind, it’s important to consider the limitations, as well as the benefits, of using AI in this context.

As well as the most obvious timesaving/efficiency aspect, AI can help tailor an existing CV to a particular job specification and adhere to formatting best practices, including ensuring your CV is ATS friendly. However, AI tends to overemphasise key words and may be repetitive, which can lead to a CV that reads as formulaic. Another limitation for candidates in the UK is that, unless specifically instructed to write in British English, ChatGPT uses the American English spelling of words (i.e., using ‘z’ instead of ‘s’, and omitting ‘u’ from certain words); watch out for this and make amendments where required.

An increasingly relevant point to consider is the rise of Contextual Recruitment, particularly in the legal sector. AI may struggle to navigate and convey complex life narratives, especially those related to overcoming socio-economic challenges. Candidates with unique journeys may find it challenging to express the depth of their experiences and resilience solely through AI-generated content. While an increasing number of firms are using third-party providers to highlight candidates’ achievements in context, e.g., through social mobility and educational background questionnaires, you may wish to refer to any extenuating circumstances in your CV or cover letter. This may include carer status, bereavement, or chronic illness/disability that could have impacted your grades.

Ultimately, generative AI can be a fantastic tool to assist in CV writing, but remember that AI isn’t a replacement for human creativity or personality. If you do opt to use AI in the CV writing process, consider using it in the drafting stages, and progressing from there. Combining the efficiency and assistance of AI with human review and input will ensure that the final document reflects the authentic and nuanced narrative of your professional and personal experience.

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